Duke's D not so hot in return but offense real warm

Dec. 16, 2013 @ 11:26 PM

Duke returned from nearly two weeks off for a final exam break with its offense clicking Monday night.

The defense wasn’t as solid, but it was enough for the No. 8 Blue Devils to notch a lopsided nonconference win.

Duke shot at a blistering rate over the game’s first 15 minutes, opening a 21-point lead and cruising to an 85-66 win over Gardner-Webb at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Playing for the first time since beating Michigan 79-69 on Dec. 3, the Blue Devils (8-2) made 17 of their first 23 shots. That helped them build a 46-25 lead and a little more than five minutes were yet to be played in the first half.

Gardner-Webb (6-6), which shot 62.5 percent in the first half, cut the lead to 14 points at halftime. But, after holding that 53-39 lead at intermission, Duke never saw its lead drop below 12 points as it methodically put away the Bulldogs.

“I thought we came out sharp offensively,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “The ball was moving fast. They had a zone that spread out to cover our 3s and we made good reads. We made really good reads and guys were very unselfish.”

Freshman Jabari Parker led Duke with 21 points on a solid 7-of-12 shooting night. The 6-8 forward surpassed the 20-point mark for the ninth time in 10 games this season. Rodney Hood, Duke’s other go-to player on the offensive end, scored 15 points despite a sub-par shooting night on 3-pointers (1 for 7).

“I think we were sharp for the most part,” Parker said. “A lot of our guys found a lot of reads. We came off looking to score and came off aggressively. Even if we couldn’t get it on the first time, we always went to the second option.”

The Blue Devils received a spark off the bench from redshirt senior Andre Dawkins, who scored a season-best 18 points. Dawkins made four 3-pointers, hitting three in the first half, and his production was efficient for his 22 minutes of play.

“Andre came out really well,” Parker said. “He was aggressive coming off the bench and we really needed that on offense to get us going.”

Point guard Quinn Cook also turned in a solid night of work in the backcourt. The 6-2 junior scored 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting while also dishing out nine assists.

“It’s his team,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s running his team He’s done a very good job of that.”

Duke shot 50 percent for the game even though it suffered through a 36-percent second half. The Blue Devils only turned the ball over 11 times.

Defensively, Duke struggled at times to keep Gardner-Webb from getting easy baskets in its half-court sets. Jerome Hill, a 6-5 sophomore, made 9 of 10 shots to score a team-best 22 points.

Cook said the Blue Devils fell into a bad habit they hoped they’d halted in their previous three games before exam break.

“When we get it going offensively like that, we get lazy on defense,” Cook said. “We had it going early, so we got lazy. We have got to get that out of our system.”

That approach is why Duke struggled to beat Vermont 91-90 on Nov. 24. The Blue Devils improved defensively against Alabama, Arizona and Michigan, winning two of those three games.

But, over the 13-day break, Duke lost some of its defensive edge.

“A little bit of a setback – for me, too,” Parker said. “The Michigan game we were really awake and aware of their players. This game, we let them go to their tendencies and it played out well for them.”

Gardner-Webb finished at 54 percent shooting for the game, the first team to shoot better than 50 percent against Duke since Vermont hit 64.8 percent. Only three teams have shot better than 50 percent against Duke this season. Kansas is the third.

Duke has a couple of days to shore up its defense before facing high-scoring UCLA (9-1) at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7:30 p.m., ESPN).

Given the circumstances of Monday’s game, Krzyzewski isn’t overly concerned about the team’s lack of communication on defense.

“Sometimes when you finish exams,” Krzyzewski said, “you don’t want to talk to anybody, so I thought that our team was good most of the time, lacking sometimes, but overall OK.”